Chapter 10. How can we live righteously in an unjust world?

Here are the topics in this chapter after this introductory section. The philosophy of self-fulfillment is captured by the slogan "Be all that you can be," which is used in recruiting ads for the US Army. The problem with this philosophy is that it encourages us to develop the worst part of ourselves. Most of us have the potential to be criminals, so we should not be encouraged to be all that we can be. Instead we should be encouraged suppress our criminal potential and be as good as we can be.

A similar idea is expressed in the adage, "Whatever you do, do it well." This maxim is not as good as it could be. Before we give this advice, we should consider the fact that doing something well is not always good. Suppose we are counseling a bombardier. If we realize that it is a crime to drop bombs out of airplanes when flying over populated areas, then we should not encourage a bombardier to do a good job. It might be better if he did his job poorly and dropped his bombs before takeoff and blew his plane to bits.

Now consider an occupation that is not obviously unjust. Suppose a man is president of a large corporation. His job is to make as much money as possible for his company. This goal is not criminal. However, it may be impossible for him to do this job well without employing means that are criminal. Should the corporate president lobby for government contracts and special privileges? Should he try to get a legal monopoly so his company can be guaranteed profits? Suppose he knows that if he doesn't do these things his competitors at other companies will, and the result will be financial ruin for his company. Does he then have a moral obligation to do his job well so that the stockholders and the families of the employees of his company can prosper? The corporate president should make lots of money for his company by whatever means are required if he wants to retain his status or if he feels a strong obligation to his company's stockholders and employees. On the other hand, in a government-regulated economy, if he doesn't want to violate other people's rights, he should resign and look for another way to make his living.

People who fail at their jobs might not be as bad as we commonly think. A bombardier who always misses his target might be better than one who successfully accomplishes his mission of destruction. A corporate dropout might have less status and power than a corporate president, but he might be a better person because of it. Only the individual himself knows whether his failure is due to moral principles or incompetence.

A century ago, Horatio Alger wrote stories to inspire boys to go into business. The stories promoted the myth that through hard work, honesty, creativity, and astuteness at satisfying consumer demands, a young man will rise to the top of the corporate ladder. This myth is still around, and it fosters undue respect for those who succeed, by attributing their success to these virtues.

In a free-market economy there would be much truth in this myth, but it is not as true today as it was when Horatio Alger was writing his stories. In a government-regulated economy, it is often more important for a corporate executive to know the right people and to lobby for special privileges than to be productive.

Large corporations gain an advantage in an economy corrupted by government intervention. As government gets more centralized and more intrusive, it becomes too expensive for small businessmen to hire enough lawyers and accountants and bribe enough legislators, judges, and inspectors to cut through all the red tape necessary to stay in business. Small businessmen are less competitive in the political sphere and, consequently, as government grows, they become less competitive in the economic sphere.

The decision makers in the modern corporate state are often far removed from the flesh and blood consequences of their decisions, and they have become so well adjusted to the existing political economy that they are desensitized to basic rights in business. Without a pang of conscience they can do the things necessary to obtain government contracts and special privileges for their companies. They lobby for subsidies, licenses, tax advantages, tariffs, and regulations favorable to their own companies and harmful to their competitors. The kind of person who can do whatever will maximize the profits for his business, without being inhibited by moral considerations, is the kind of person who makes it to the top of the corporate ladder. This is not the kind of person we should encourage children to respect and emulate.

As the role of the state grows in the economy, business success becomes less a measure of one's ability to use the productive means and more a measure of one's ability to use the political means to acquire wealth. Success in the corporate state may be evidence of crime rather than virtue. Those who retain their integrity have a harder time keeping pace.1

It is embarrassing, even impolite, to bring up moral issues in a mixed economy. It becomes a behavior problem worthy of a psychological counselor's attention when moral considerations interfere with one's major life decisions. For one thing, abnormal concern for morality can cause a person not to show the proper respect for superiors and to balk at the amoral nature of decision-making that the political system fosters.

In our society, many unjust occupations and activities are condoned, encouraged, honored, and, in some cases, mandated. Meanwhile, many legitimate occupations are declared illegal and forced into the black market where contracts cannot be enforced openly and honestly (because the state would then know about it and punish the participants) and where, therefore, violence is often resorted to, which gives unscrupulous dealers a competitive advantage.

If you know right from wrong, you may have to choose between having a clear conscience and being successful. To be at peace with yourself you must refuse to participate in some of our society's regular practices. Some careers, especially careers in government, are criminal. Good men should avoid these careers, especially careers in the armed forces.

A Christian libertarian, writing in Liberty magazine in 1904, offered the following advice to fellow anarchists who want to live moral lives in an immoral society:

"What, then, will be a reasonable life under the domination of government, for an Anarchist patriotically loyal to his free society in embryo?

He will avoid governing. He will not accept the office of sheriff; he will not protect his licensed business by prosecuting the unlicensed competitor in the next block; he will not, as a striker, call in the anti-trust law against his employer. ...

Our Anarchist will disregard the laws of the state, so far as they are not forced upon him: he will do what he thinks best, no matter whether it is legal or illegal, as far as his fear of prosecution permits—and, on the average, a little bit further ...

He will disfellowship the state in thought and language. He will not feel or talk as if he had won or lost a battle when it is the United States that has won or lost. He will not speak of the government's doings with a first person plural pronoun, but with a third person. He will not talk of "our" troops in the Philippines, though he may speak of "our government" in the same sense as he speaks of "our climate," "our mosquitoes," "our tramps." This is harder than it looks, but it is useful. It is all right that he should sympathize with the United States in an international dispute in the same way as he may perhaps sympathize with Japan against Russia, but he should throw up his hat for them as an looker-on and not as a member.2

Is it alright to serve in the armed forces?

In light of the nature of modern war and modern military methods, it is wrong to advocate or support an interstate war, a standing army, or a nuclear arsenal anywhere in the world today.

We should not participate in the murder and terrorism periodically performed by armed forces in their "police actions," "incursions," "peacekeeping missions," "occupations," "protective reaction strikes," "pacification programs," "ethnic cleansings," and other acts of war, regardless of their euphemistic names.

Because of the authoritarian nature of the armed forces and the strict discipline they impose on their members, righteous people have no place among them. We should not enlist in any branch of the armed forces, even in peace time, unless we are prepared to disobey orders and become martyrs.

Consider what a righteous man would have to do if he found himself in the armed forces. Most of the orders that a new recruit receives are designed to humiliate and dehumanize him, but they do not usually require him to violate anyone's rights. As long as he is not put in a position of authority, a righteous man can obey the orders given him during basic training. He has the right to disobey most orders, but he is not duty-bound to disobey. However, he has no right to issue any orders or even to pass on any orders from above. All orders in the armed forces are backed by threats of criminal violence. Issuing such an order or relaying such an order is therefore a crime. It does not matter whether the activity commanded is itself a crime. For example, it is not wrong to clean a latrine, but it is wrong to threaten someone with violence if they refuse to clean a latrine. This is what you would be doing if you, as a soldier, passed on an order to another soldier to clean a latrine.

The man who realizes that it is wrong to threaten non-aggressors, even at the behest of military leaders, had better stay out of the army. His best chance to preserve his integrity is to refuse induction into the armed forces. After he is in the army, the penalties for disobeying orders may be more severe than the penalties for refusing induction. This is especially true for a chronically insubordinate soldier, which any man in the army would have to be if he refused to violate basic rights.

A young man faced with conscription should lie, cheat, or bribe his way out of it, or hide, flee the country, or go to jail, depending on circumstances and his personal preference.

Are all police officers criminals?

Can someone be a police officer and not be a criminal? It might have been possible in nineteenth century America for a policeman to do his job without violating anyone's rights. When the first police department was established in New York City in 1847, policemen were political appointees. In those days, the police officers were unsupervised, and they exercised their own discretion in deciding which laws to enforce. They could fight exclusively against crime if they chose to.

In recent years, however, the police have become more regulated, and they are more often assigned to enforce laws that require them to violate the rights of citizens. This does not mean that policemen were better in the nineteenth century. On the contrary, they were often corrupt and violent bullies. However, unlike modern police officers, policemen in the nineteenth century were not required to spend their time committing crimes. Modern policemen not only commit crimes by enforcing laws against voluntary exchanges, they aggravate the conditions that lead citizens to commit real crimes. The war on those who use illegal drugs is the prime example of this.

The great demand for these drugs and the severe penalties imposed for getting caught trading illegal drugs have driven the prices up. The high prices have led many users to commit real crimes to support their habits. This leads some people to think that drugs cause crime and that we need to redouble our efforts to stop drug traffic. All of this means that police officers today spend a lot of their time trying to suppress drug traffic, which means they contribute directly and indirectly to the crime rate. By arresting people for buying, selling, or possessing drugs, policemen violate the rights of drug traffickers and break the peace. The policemen's crimes against drug dealers raise the costs of drugs and indirectly cause more drug users to steal.

The dramatic increase in the number of laws that violate basic rights has made it virtually impossible for a police officer to perform his job without being a criminal. More important than this is the fact that, regardless of the particular laws being enforced, the way police officers enforce the laws is basically unjust.

What do police officers do when they suspect someone has committed a crime? They arrest him, which means they take him by brute force to the police station or the local jail, which means they kidnap him. Then a judge decides how much ransom to charge. If the prisoner cannot come up with the ransom (called bail), a police officer locks the prisoner in a cell until his trial. In preparation for the trial, the police commit other crimes on behalf of the court and sometimes on behalf of the defendant. The police serve subpoenas on witnesses for the prosecution and on witnesses for the defense. This is a crime, because it entails threatening to kidnap and imprison peaceful people if they refuse to participate in the trial. Another crime backed up by the police force is jury selection. When a prospective juror is told to appear at the courthouse, he receives a threat of arrest. The threat usually comes in the mail, but if the individual is bold enough to disobey the order to appear at the courthouse, police officers might kidnap him and put him in jail. Threatening to commit serious crimes such as kidnapping and imprisonment is an integral part of being a police officer today. Consequently, we should avoid this criminal profession.

Is it a crime to consort with criminals?

Because all states are unjust, some libertarians say that nobody has a right to use any government services or to participate in any government-sponsored activities. For example, they regard it as a crime to send their children to a socialist, public school, because these schools are financed by theft. Some even regard it a crime to pay taxes, because taxes are used to finance government crimes such as the military and police activities already described.

Other things that some libertarians have regarded as crimes include: testifying in court; serving on a jury; holding any government office; working for the government as a mailman, school teacher, civil engineer, or bureaucrat; working for the government indirectly in the defense industry; accepting social security, "welfare," or unemployment compensation; and using government parks, highways, canals, post offices, voting machines, Federal Reserve notes, and so on. If all such associations with the government are crimes, then people living in countries with highly interventionist governments such as the USA are morally obligated to trade exclusively in the underground economy or, as John Locke suggested, leave the country. If all association with the state is criminal, then we should pay no taxes, use no Federal Reserve notes, acquire no licenses, use no government services, and perform no services for the government. Such a life-style would require great sacrifices for people with middle-class American values. Before we make such sacrifices, we should see whether justice really requires them.

To say that all acts involving physical or economic association with the government are crimes, because the government is a criminal organization, is to imply that any deliberate association with any criminal is a crime. This would mean that we couldn't associate with private citizens if they associate with the government. How far can we go with this principle? Is it immoral to smile at a police officer? Is it a crime to talk to someone who has attended a public school? I don't think so.

We cannot be guilty of crimes merely by associating with criminals. Guilt is not established by association. The only way to be a criminal is to violate someone's rights. Associating with criminals is not, in itself, a violation of anyone's rights.

Before continuing, it is important to reemphasize the distinction between right and wrong in terms of justice and right and wrong in terms of virtue. The choices we make within the range of options allowed by our rights and the rights of everybody else are matters of personal discretion. This book deals with the requirements of justice, not with the broader requirements that might be imposed by a philosophy of individual perfection. Whether it is nice to associate with criminals is a question beyond the scope of this book. What we are concerned with here is: When does association with a criminal become a crime?

Some kinds of assistance to criminals may be unavoidable such as when a bus driver unwittingly helps a criminal escape with stolen goods from the scene of a crime. Other kinds of aide to criminals may be reprehensible according to a particular standard of virtue without being crimes. For example, we might have a low opinion of a gangster's girlfriend, even though she is not a criminal herself.

We need guidelines to help us distinguish between criminal and noncriminal assistance. First of all, it is not a crime to assist a noncriminal, so we are not concerned with drivers of getaway cars when they help movie stars escape from autograph seekers. But we are concerned with drivers of getaway cars when they help criminals escape with stolen goods from the scene of their crime.

Second, we are concerned with situations in which the person knows he is helping to commit crimes. If a chauffeur has no reason to suspect that his passenger possesses stolen goods, he is not to blame for helping the criminal escape. To be morally accountable for a crime, a person must violate someone's rights under circumstances in which a reasonable person should have been aware that he was doing so. In other words, if you knowingly violate someone's rights, or if you carelessly violate someone's rights, you are morally responsible for a crime. In the first case, when you deliberately violate someone's rights, your act reveals that you value something else more than justice. In the second case, when you thoughtlessly violate someone's rights, your act reveals that your moral character is so underdeveloped and undisciplined that your status as a moral agent is questionable. In either case, your act reveals that you cannot be trusted, and you pose a threat to those around you. In both cases, your act reveals that your moral values are relatively weak.

Other people can help you to remember the importance of moral principles by blaming you and making you feel ashamed of your behavior. Being judgmental is natural and effective compared with the more fashionable practice of attributing responsibility for crimes to society as a whole or to the environment—where it dissipates and vanishes into the air.

For assistance to be a crime it must meet the following conditions: (1) It must be relevant to a crime, that is, it must directly help a criminal to commit or to continue a crime. (2) The abettor must know that he is helping a criminal, or he must be in a situation in which a reasonable person would know that he was helping to commit or continue a crime. These criteria enable us to draw the line between criminal complicity and noncriminal service. For example, as long as you do not help the criminal to plan or execute a crime, you may be a criminal's friend, lover, or golf partner. We may disapprove of people who befriend criminals, but we have no right to use force against them as long as they are not directly and actively helping to commit or prolong a specific crime.

You are not responsible for the actions of others. What matters is your own actions. As long as you do not violate the rights of others, you may do what you want with whomever you want. Of course, if you hang out with criminals all the time, people are bound to have suspicions about you, and they may not trust you. That is their prerogative.

Some people reject this conclusion and try to coercively stop everyone from dealing with criminals. This is the position of those who said we should be restrained from trading with South Africans, because of their government's racist laws. It is also the same logic that anti-communists used when they said we should ban trade with Red Chinese and Cubans, because they have criminal governments. If this line of thinking were valid, a similar case could be made against trading with American citizens too. If everybody decided to deal with only people whose governments do not violate basic rights, there would be no trade, and most of the people in the world would starve to death. Justice does not require such antisocial policies. The history and behavior of the people you associate with does not necessarily reflect your character.

Working for Criminals

You can work for a criminal as a gardener, cook, maid, accountant, doctor, nurse, baby-sitter, dentist, mechanic, valet, psychologist, prostitute, or even a lawyer. However, if he is the kind of criminal who makes most of his money by crime, then, if you receive any money from him, either as a gift or as payment, that money was probably stolen. The stolen money is still the rightful property of the victims. You should return it to the owners. You have no right to spend it. Consequently, you should not work for a thief unless you do so for free.

Taking Money from the Government

You are entitled to take from the government, or any other thief, as much money as they have taken from you. So it is legitimate to accept income tax refunds, unemployment compensation, social security checks, and any other money you can get back from the state, legally or illegally, up to the amount the state has stolen from you. If you manage to get more back than they took, you have no right to keep it. You should give it to some other taxpayer who has not gotten back as much as the state took from him.

Once you have gotten your money back from the government, it is no longer legitimate to work for the government in any capacity for money. Also, it is not legitimate to work for any private company whose major customer is the government, because any money the company might pay you would be money that doesn't belong to them. For example, it would be wrong to work in a munitions plant that receives most of its income from the government.

Is voting a crime?

Some libertarians are opposed to voting in government elections or participating in political campaigns under any circumstances. Some of them don't register to vote because jurors in some states are selected from the list of registered voters, and they don't want to risk being required to serve on a jury. Some libertarians simply find politics distasteful and prefer to not get involved. They don't care whether other people get involved. For these libertarians, non-participation is a matter of personal preference.

Other libertarians object to political activity because they believe it is a poor strategy for promoting freedom. They believe it is either counterproductive or less productive than other strategies. They refuse to vote, because they think it encourages politicians. These libertarians regard political activity as impractical, distasteful, and possibly immoral, but not unjust. I am not concerned here with disputing the contention that political activity is distasteful or inefficient. I am concerned with the contention that participation in government elections is a crime.

The Voluntaryist Argument

One group of libertarians, who refer to themselves as voluntaryists, has a principled objection to voting. The voluntaryists claim that it is immoral to vote in government elections because such voting legitimizes the government and authorizes the installation of politicians into positions of power where they can pass laws that violate individual rights. We have no right to violate individual rights, so we have no right to delegate such power to politicians. Hence, it is immoral to vote.

This conclusion is a leap. It needs more justification. Let's go through the argument again more slowly.

  1. The voluntaryists say that nobody has the authority to violate rights. I agree.
  2. Therefore, nobody can delegate the authority to violate rights. I agree.
  3. Therefore, politicians have no right of their own or by delegation from the electorate to violate individual rights. I agree.
  4. The voluntaryists say that by voting, the voter authorizes politicians to violate rights. But this cannot be true, because it contradicts (3). This is where the voluntaryists lose me. They seem to be accusing voters of doing something that voluntaryists admit is impossible. Since, in logic, you cannot authorize someone to commit a crime, why do the voluntaryists accuse the voters of doing this? If the voters have done the impossible (authorize crime), then what the politicians do in office is not immoral, because they have the authority to do it, and the libertarian objection to government falls.
The voluntaryists claim that duly elected office holders do not in fact have a moral right to pass laws that violate rights. The public, not being libertarian, does not agree. The public believes that voting legitimizes the power of the elected officials to pass such laws. The public is wrong about this, and so are the voluntarists who agree with them. It seems to me that the voluntarists are trying to argue from opposite sides simultaneously. They agree with the public that voting grants authority to elected officials and at the same time they object that governmental power is immoral. They stick to their libertarian objection to government power even after giving up the premise that justifies the libertarian objection.

Then they backtrack on the premise that voting authorizes power by calling it a democratic myth, and they object to participating in the voting ritual because it fosters the myth. Here they have a sensible objection to voting, but it is far different from the allegation that voting is a crime.

The voluntaryist position seems to boil down to the maxim that it is immoral to foster a myth that makes government appear legitimate in the eyes of non-libertarians. The trouble with this maxim is that you can't win no matter what you do. If you vote, you foster the myth that the democratic process legitimizes the state in the eyes of the public. If you don't vote, you foster the equally popular myth that you have no right to complain about what the state does, because you failed to take advantage of the opportunity to participate.

When the voluntaryist says that the voter implicitly agrees that whoever wins the election is entitled to use the powers that go with the office, he has no more proof for this assertion than someone who says that by not voting the non-voter implicitly agrees that he doesn't care who wins the election and that whoever wins the election is entitled to exercise the powers that go with the office.

If the voluntaryists are correct that simply by voting the voters condone the acts of the state, then the state is not nearly as bad as I thought it was. The amount of taxation that can be called theft is greatly reduced. All taxes collected from voters is consensual. Even Hitler is not as bad as I thought he was. He didn't murder 6 million Jews. He murdered 6 million minus the millions of Jews who voted.

Another consequence of accepting the voluntaryist argument is that voters are morally responsible for whatever their state does, even if their candidates lose the elections. So those Jews who voted against Hitler are morally responsible for the murder of the millions of Jews who didn't vote. One voluntaryist, Henry Clarke Wright, was so consistent in his wrongheadedness that he "stated that he wound not vote, even if by his one vote he could free all the slaves.".3 Other voluntaryists regard his position as admirable! Their opposition to voting is even stronger than their opposition to slavery. They do not value freedom and individual rights as much as they value their philosophical purity. While voluntaryists are generally friends of liberty, they will not lift a finger to help in a voting booth. In fact, by working to discourage libertarians from voting, voluntaryists are working to ensure that there will be more voters for expanding government power than for restraining it.

The fundamental error in the voluntaryists' logic is their assumption that the act of voting constitutes blanket approval of and responsibility for everything the state does. Some members of the general public believe this, but no libertarians, other than the voluntaryists, believe it. Voters shouldn't be held morally responsible for how the irrational public and the voluntaryists interpret our actions. We can't control how they think. Since the public and the voluntaryists do not understand the nature of moral responsibility, they are likely to misinterpret whatever we do. So we shouldn't worry about trying to please them. Instead, we should do what we can to defend our rights without invading the equal rights of others.

Is voting coercive?

We have the right to speak freely. We can say anything we want to as long as we don't threaten to use brute force against nonaggressors. How does this right relate to our interaction with the state? Does voting fall under the right to freedom of expression, or is it a form of invasion? What is the difference between the man who says he prefers a snake to a skunk and the man who expresses the same sentiment by voting in an election?

We need to make a distinction between voting for so-called "representatives" and voting directly on specific propositions, because these two kinds of voting have different implications. First I will discuss voting for people seeking government offices.

Is it a crime to vote for people seeking government offices?

To make the case against voting for office seekers as strong as possible, let's assume that the voter is faced with a choice between two evils: a Republican and a Democrat. Suppose that in his campaign speeches the Republican promises to support such crimes as building more weapons systems, restricting imports from Japan, restricting immigration from Mexico, and imprisoning more drug dealers. Suppose the Republican also promises to work to reduce existing invasions in the areas of taxes and government regulations that interfere with freedom of contract. The Democratic candidate promises to support such evils as raising the legal minimum-wage, socialized medicine, and the elimination of tax loopholes. On the other hand, the Democrat promises to cut military spending, stop the CIA and FBI from spying on Americans, and end arms sales to military dictatorships.

The voter who wants the less evil candidate to win cannot easily determine who that is. To figure out which candidate will do the least harm, we must answer the following questions:

  1. On which issues is the candidate telling the truth about what he believes and what he will try to do?
  2. How strong are the candidate's convictions on the issues, and how hard will he work on those issues if elected?
  3. How effective will the candidate be in promoting his position on each issue? This involves assessing the candidate's ability to influence other legislators, and it depends on the projected makeup of the legislature after the election. If the candidate has no chance of changing the bad laws that he opposes, but he does have a chance of enacting the bad laws that he favors, then perhaps his election would do more harm than his opponent's. Of course, the office a candidate is seeking should be considered when making this determination. If a candidate is running for a job in local government, his views on foreign policy are of little importance.
  4. Finally, after considering all of the other factors (most of which cannot be calculated with much certainty), there is the problem of quantifying the net harm that each candidate is likely to produce. How many units of harm do we assign to increased weapons systems? Restrictions on trade? And so on.
There is no unit of measurement that we can use to calculate the amount of harm any politician may cause. The voter has to use intuition to select the less evil candidate. For all we know, asking a teenage girl to pick the one with the cuter smile might be as good a method as any. Voting for political candidates cannot usually be proven to be a way of selecting the lesser evil and thereby defending yourself . On the other hand, it cannot usually be proven that it isn't a way of choosing the lesser evil. Selecting a candidate is generally a subjective rather than an objective decision. The argument that voting is a means of self-defense is not applicable in an objective way in most elections.

Consider this analogy: Suppose a thief breaks into your house and at gunpoint asks whether you prefer him to steal your television set or your microwave oven. He can only carry one or the other, and out of consideration for your welfare, he has decided to let you make the choice. If you refuse to choose, he will decide which one to take. If you specify a preference, he may steal the one you specify, or, like a lying politician, he may steal the other thing anyway. Would it be immoral for you to tell the thief that you would prefer him to steal your television set? Would any jury in the world hold you morally responsible for the theft, whether you expressed your preference or not?

How is this situation different from a political election? In both cases someone is threatening to violate your rights. In both cases you are given a choice as to which of your rights will be violated. In both cases you are free to state your preference or to abstain. And in both cases there is no guarantee that your preference will be respected. In spite of these similarities there are important differences, because political elections are more complicated:

  1. Instead of being confronted with one thief, in a political election the voter is confronted by two or more candidates each promising to violate different rights.
  2. The candidates might threaten you with death, slavery, imprisonment, and many other crimes in addition to theft, or they might be so vague that you don't know what they mean.
  3. Candidates for political offices are generally less honest about their intentions than ordinary thieves.
  4. In a political election your vote is just one out of many that will be counted to determine who will be elected.
  5. The elected candidate will be subject to the restraints established by other elected politicians. He will not automatically be able to fulfill his campaign threats and promises, even if he wants to. He will have to conspire with other elected officials to determine the overall list of crimes to be included in the government's annual budget.
  6. Candidates for political offices are not only asking that you select them to violate your rights but also that you choose them to violate the rights of other people. This last difference is very significant from a moral point of view. It requires a different analogy.
The Mafia is a useful model for the state, because both the Mafia and the state are organizations that use coercion to monopolize services within a geographic area. Some people may think it is unfair to compare the state to the Mafia. I agree, and apologize in advance to any Mafia members who may be offended. But I still think it is a useful analogy.

The Mafia sometimes experiences internal power struggles resulting from the conflicting ambitions of its members. These power struggles are similar to political power struggles among the ruling class. Sometimes these power struggles are settled peacefully and sometimes they are settled by assassinations. The biggest difference between the power struggles in the two organizations is that the state allows outsiders to vote in elections after the major factions within the ruling elite have settled on the candidates.

Suppose the Mafia is so firmly established and so audacious that they decide to publicize their power struggles and let the public determine who will exercise administrative control of the rackets in each district. Suppose that Tony the Drug King is running against Sam the Scarfaced CPA for the position of Godfather (chairman of the board) of the New York City Mafia. Suppose Tony promises to concentrate on monopolizing the drug trade, and Sam proposes to concentrate on stealing from union pension funds. Both are notorious liars. Neither one, if elected, could guarantee that the Mafia would change its policies, because the other members of the board of directors would be free to vote for alternative policies (subject to offers they cannot refuse). Would it be a crime to vote in such an election? Would a vote for Tony be a vote in favor of monopolizing the illegal drug industry or would it be a vote against stealing from union pension funds?

Suppose you were sure that Tony would do more harm than Sam. Then voting for Sam could, in a small way, reduce the chances of more harm being done. Not voting at all would not reduce the chances of more harm being done. Voting could be considered an act of self-defense. Not voting is refusing to use this particular, generally ineffective, form of defense. A person has the right to not defend himself at all, so a person has the right to refuse to vote. The question remains, is voting for Sam a legitimate act of self-defense? Does voting for Sam violate anyone's rights?

The people whose rights might be regarded as being violated by voting for Sam are the union members whose pension funds Sam proposes to steal. Because Sam is proposing to violate their rights, it can be argued that by voting for him you are an accomplice to this proposed crime. Is this argument sound?

For a person to be Sam's partner in crime, the person must actively participate with Sam in the planning or execution of a crime. Is a person who merely votes for Sam in a Mafia election participating in the planning or execution of a crime? The answer to this depends on whether we are talking about the general election in which people outside the Mafia organization are allowed to vote or an election inside the Mafia where policy is actually decided.

In the general election, the only sense in which the voter may be said to be aiding and abetting Sam is by increasing Sam's chance of obtaining more control over the Mafia's policies. Because the voter does not own any share of the Mafia's resources, his vote is like an answer to an opinion poll rather than a ballot at a stockholder's meeting. As a statement of preference in an opinion poll, his vote is merely an exercise of free speech rather than a policy-making decision.

Some would say that it is wrong to vote for either Tony or Sam, because they are both criminals and to vote for one of them is to endorse crime. It may be distasteful to vote for either of them, and it may give the false impression that the voter approves of the Mafia and its crimes, but voting in such an election would not violate anyone's rights. It wouldn't even be a crime to vote for the more evil candidate. A vote is not a command. The voter has no authority over the candidate before or after the election. If you vote for a candidate and he is elected, he is not obliged to take orders from you or from any of the electorate. The analogy between the Mafia election and a government election holds true in this respect. A voter in a government election is simply answering an opinion poll rather than deciding how he wants his shares of government resources to be used.

State resources are controlled by government officials, not by the citizens. When the state holds an election, they are really conducting an opinion poll according to rules they have established to help them determine which candidate for a particular office is the most popular. Citizens who choose to express their opinions in such polls are exercising free speech, and hoping to influence the course of state policy. They are not participating in the state's crimes.

Similarly, Mafia resources are controlled by the Mafia members, not by outsiders. If the Mafia wished to select its leaders by conducting opinion polls among outsiders, those outsiders who participate is such surveys would be exercising a form a free speech. They would not be the Mafia's partners in crime.

To assess the justice of various associations between individuals and states we need to see whether a direct relationship, imparting criminal culpability can be established between a particular kind of involvement with the state and an act of state invasion. Let's begin with a state crime and trace the moral responsibility back as far as it will go.

Consider the case of a bomber crew who drop bombs that kill peaceful men, women, and children below. The bombardier is guilty of murder, although he probably doesn't think so. He can reconcile his war crimes with his conscience, because he does not have an image in his mind of his victims, and the bombing mission was not his idea in the first place—he was merely following orders. He wouldn't do such a thing if he were not ordered to by his commander.

When war crimes result from orders, it means that more than one guilty party is involved. Bombardiers would not murder people if they were out of the military chain of command. More than a perverted sense of duty is involved in such crimes. Military men like to believe they are animated by noble ideals such as "duty, honor, and country," but often they are motivated by fear of the penalties for disobeying direct orders. The commanding officer does not merely suggest that his men go out and drop bombs, he orders them to do it, and his orders are backed by threats of violence. The commanding officer, although he does not drop the bombs himself, is guilty of threatening the bombardier and coercing him to commit murder. Furthermore, the commanding officer shares responsibility for the crimes of all the bombardiers under his command.

From the President on down through the military chain of command, each order given is backed by a threat. This makes everyone in the chain of command, from the originator of an order down to the men who finally carry it out, all morally responsible for war crimes. The commander-in-chief, the President, has the most responsibility of all, because he originates the order to bomb or not to bomb. The President is, therefore, the biggest war criminal in the country, because he is involved in all the war crimes carried out under his command.

We have traced responsibility for war crimes back to the commander-in-chief. Can we trace the moral responsibility back further? Are those who voted for the President in the last election morally responsible for the war crimes he commits? The answer depends on whether we accept the theory that sovereignty resides in the electorate.

Are general elections a means by which the sovereign electorate exercises its control of the state and authorizes agents to manage the machinery of the state in their behalf? Or are general elections merely conventions that the state uses to give its subjects an indirect voice in determining a small percentage of future government personnel, without any legitimate agency relationship between the voters and the elected? Does the electorate actually have coercive power over the state? Or does the state have coercive power over the public?

The will of the majority as expressed in the market place and in the voting booths can indirectly influence the policies of the state, but the public is not part of the state's chain of command. Voters have no coercive power over the state. The voter has a small voice in determining whether a particular candidate will hold office, but he has no choice as to whether the office will be filled at all, nor does he have any control over what an elected official will do in office.

Elected officials are known for promising all sorts of popular programs and then abandoning those promises after their election. The voters have no legal recourse until the next election. If the people were sovereign, they would be at the top of the state's chain of command, and they could dismiss officials who fail to honor their commitments.

It is collectivistic nonsense to speak of the "will of the people" or the "sovereignty of the electorate," because only individuals have wills and only individuals can have ultimate moral responsibility. But even if it were possible for the people to have a will and be sovereign, it is clear that they are not in control of the state. Elected officials are free to ignore their campaign promises. The voting public has no power to require elected officials to fulfill any obligations. Voters are not in charge. They are not responsible for the actions of elected officials.

If voting were wrong simply because it could have an effect on those who wield power, then any other activity that might exert influence on those in power would be wrong. This rule would condemn direct conversation with people in power, publishing books and articles that have political implications, and even conversations with people who might in turn have conversations with people in power or who might write books or articles with political implications. This rule must be rejected. We cannot be held accountable for the actions of other people whom we are not coercing.

The election laws are such that the candidate who receives the most votes gets the privileges of the office. In most cases the winner of an election is not compelled to serve after he is elected. Consequently, voting for a candidate does not coerce him. Voting for a candidate does not make the voter morally responsible for the actions of the candidate after he is elected to office. The office holder is not the agent of the people who voted for him. He is not required to do their bidding. If he commits crimes while in office, he is responsible for them, not those who voted for him.

Consequently, I think libertarians should hold their noses and vote or stay out of the voting booths, as they see fit.

Is it a crime to vote on referenda?

Sometimes the public is given the opportunity to vote directly on specific propositions rather than merely for "representatives." For example, some local governments allow citizens to vote on the public school budget, and some states permit public referenda on other issues that affect the use of government power. In these elections, the argument that the voter bears moral responsibility for the outcome is much stronger than elections of "representatives" because: (1) These elections are focused on single issues. (2) There is usually a clear moral answer to the issue. (3) The outcome of the election will have a much more certain effect on the actions of the government with regard to the specific issue.

These referenda are opportunities for the public to defend themselves or to promote crime without taking any risks. As long as you vote the right way on the propositions, there is nothing unjust about participating in these referenda. If you vote the wrong way, you may well be abetting crime. However, with the secret balloting system, only you would know about your guilt, and your reputation would remain intact.

Is it wrong to run for office?

Now that we have shown that it is not a crime to vote for a political candidate, it is time to consider whether we have the right to run for and hold political office. The same test must be applied to political office as to any other activity: Does it violate anyone's rights?

At worst, running for office can be seen as a threat to violate rights. If a candidate promises to commit crimes if elected, as most candidates do without realizing it, those campaign promises can be taken as threats, and appropriate defensive measures may be taken against the threatener. However, if a libertarian ran for political office and promised not to violate anyone's rights, then his campaign could not reasonably be interpreted as a threat, and he would not be a criminal. Such a candidate would have to oppose almost everything the government does.

Running for political office, per se, is not a crime (as long as you only advocate libertarian policies). Consequently, it is not necessarily a crime to have a campaign organization or a libertarian political party. However, those who seek power usually become corrupt. So, if a libertarian candidate stands a realistic chance of winning, he should be regarded with as much skepticism as any other candidate.

Must we take up arms against the state?

While a just man cannot condone or cooperate with many actions of the state, it is not necessary for him to resist the invasions of the state or other criminals. A righteous man can be a pacifist. It is as unreasonable to expect every libertarian to be a violent revolutionary as it is to expect every statist to be a policeman or a soldier.

The prima facie case for a revolution is always better than the case for counter-revolution, because no state has the right to exist. Unfortunately, unless there is enough support to carry a revolution to successful completion and abolish the state, there is not much point to it. For a revolution to eliminate a state without giving birth to a new one, the ideological leadership of the revolution and a substantial percentage of the public must be libertarian. Until that time violent revolution will lead to early death or imprisonment for the revolutionaries. After that time, violent revolution might not be necessary.

When those who want to abolish the state become the majority, they may still have to resort to violence if those who control the state refuse to give up without a fight. If violence becomes appropriate, the revolutionaries must not to fall into the collectivistic way of thinking. If they adopt collectivistic premises, they will violate people's rights during and after the revolution. They would be prone to resort to terror tactics and to escalate the struggle into a modern war in which peaceful people are murdered by both sides.

Moral revolutionaries would operate under some handicaps as well as some advantages. One of the handicaps is that men cannot be sacrificed without their consent, even if it would help the cause tremendously. Rational people would only sacrifice their lives under extraordinary circumstances. Such decisions would be spontaneous and could not be planned for by revolutionary strategists. Unlike kings and generals, moral revolutionaries could not conceive of their struggle as a game.

On the other hand, one of the advantages of a moral revolution is that it has no central point of control that could be captured and forced to surrender. It doesn't have one head that can be chopped off to kill it.

The essential factor for the success of a moral revolution would be the popularity of its cause. A government can finance an unpopular war by taxation, but the free market could not support an unpopular war. People would not voluntarily divert capital to war mobilization when other investments are more attractive. The only war a free society could finance would be one so popular that the civilian population ceases to demand more than necessities and donates the rest of their capital and labor to the cause.

If libertarianism ever becomes this popular, the ruling class might give up without a struggle. It's possible.


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